So, in my last post I argued that John Farrell made a mistake by naming Derek Jeter his leadoff hitter for the All-Star Game. Actually, I didn't really even make much of an argument, just said that with a lineup of All-Stars to choose from, Farrell elected to hit his worst hitter leadoff. That's not an argument but more of a statement of fact. It's not even that critical of Jeter. In fact, I've been on record that I'm fine with him starting the game.
Anyway, that led to some responses on Twitter like this:
@dschoenfield Dude, it's the face of baseball's last All Star Game. Why are you having a heart attack over him leading off? Get a grip.
— Chris Barca (@CBarcaSTJ) July 14, 2014
@dschoenfield You spent time arguing one of the game's legends shouldn't lead off in an exhibition game. Get over yourself.
— Yanks Fan (@YanksFan814) July 14, 2014
@dschoenfield Get over Jeter batting leadoff. He's more than earned everything he gets tomorrow night. Get over yourself while you're at it.
— Bucksky619 (@Bucksky619) July 14, 2014
My counter is that, yes, in theory and execution it's an exhibition game. Unfortunately, MLB has made winning the game important: The winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series. I think that's ridiculous, but that's the ramification of the game. Just today, I heard an interview with Farrell, talking about how important home field was to the Red Sox last year, not only opening up in their home park but being able to go back home for Game 6 in the middle of a hard-fought series.
Understanding that, even with the artificial constraints of an All-Star Game, isn't Farrell under some obligation to field his best lineup?
Look, in the end, it probably won't matter or have a big impact on the game's outcome, but it's perhaps worth noting that Cal Ripken batted eighth when he started the All-Star Game in his final season.
(How important is home-field advantage? The last time the visiting team won Game 7 of the World Series was 1979, Pirates over Orioles. Since then, the home team has gone 9-0. In all seven-game playoff series, the home team has gone 19-5 since Pittsburgh's win.)
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To be fair, at least Jeter hasn't been terrible this year, hitting .272, albeit with only two home runs. Is it unusual for an all-time great to start the All-Star Game in his final season? I thought I'd check some big names from the past (not meant to be comprehensive):
Ken Griffey Jr.: He retired early in his final season, so he didn't have the chance to have a final-year send-off. After his trade to the Reds, he made just three All-Star Games, however, twice as a reserve and once voted in by the fans.
Cal Ripken: As mentioned, started and batted eighth. And hit a home run to win MVP honors.
Tony Gwynn: Did not make the All-Star team his final two seasons, when he was a part-time player.
Ozzie Smith: Was named as a reserve his final two seasons, even though he wasn't a full-time starter either season and was hitting .250 with three RBIs when named in 1995.
George Brett: Not chosen for the All-Star Game in any of his final five seasons. His final year he hit .266 with 19 home runs, so he could still hit.
Robin Yount: Similar to Jeter in many ways (respected player, spent his entire career with one team, over 3,000 hits), and yet was selected to only three All-Star Games his entire career, the last in 1983 (he played until 1993).
Pete Rose: Last voted in as a starter in 1982, named as a reserve to the 1985 team (.262, one home run at the break) but not in 1986, his final season.
Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski: I seem to remember them being "special" additions to the 1983 teams. Bench hadn't made the All-Star team in 1981 or 1982 while Yaz had made it in '82 but not the two previous years.
Hank Aaron: He started every year for the National League from 1965 to 1974, his final year with the Braves. He was named as a reserve to the AL squad in 1975 with the Brewers, despite hitting .236 with nine home runs at the break. Did not make it in 1976, his final year.
Willie Mays: Was a sub in his final season in 1973, when he hit .211 for the season.
Obviously, that doesn't represent a consistent approach to how to handle the game's living legends. Of course, most of these guys hadn't necessarily announced their retirement before the season like Jeter (and Ripken). Jeter and Ripken were the only two from this list voted in as starters by the fans. Which begs the question: Does that make them the most beloved players of the past 30 years? Maybe so.